Reflections on “Inside America’s Auschwitz”

24 Apr 10859119-essay[1]

By Elyse Warren

In the Smithsonian article, “Inside America’s Auschwitz,” Jared Keller wrestles with the shadows of America’s riddled past with racism after a visit to Louisiana’s Whitney Plantation Slavery Museum. The museum, which opened in December of 2014, marks the first museum in the nation to be recognized as a slave museum. The museum pays homage and bears witness to the history of slavery and crimes against humanity committed against the slaves who were forced into labor at the former indigo, sugar, and cotton plantation.


The memorialization and pedagogical design of the tours conducted at the museum break from the confines of the conventional history lesson given in the classroom or at other plantations. The focus is placed on providing the visitor the opportunity to understand the slave experience and remove, as Keller notes, the veil of the Gone With The Wind view of America’s Southern plantations. The experience disillusions the visitor from the romanticism associated with the grandeur of the planation homes and provides a narrative that can not only educate, but act as a change agent within the visitor when they conclude their experience.


This thoughtful design mirrors the experience of visiting sites of atrocities committed during the Holocaust in Eastern Europe, specifically the renowned pedagogy and reconciliation constructed through Germany and Poland’s memorialization of the Holocaust. Thanks to the generous support of the Jewish Federation and Dr. Barry and Mrs. Anne Stein, I participated in the March of the Living (MOL) in 2011 with five other high school students from Sarasota and witnessed the concentration camps in Poland and traveled to Israel. Reflecting on the experience, I can still vividly remember the sensory details of visiting the concentration camps and ghettos in Poland. The stench of the rotting wood of the barracks in Auschwitz-Birkenau, the scraped walls of the cattle car at the Lodz Ghetto, and the cold, sterile, space of the gas chambers at Majdonek that were stained with an effervescent turquoise blue from the Zyklon B chemicals. All the details wove together the prisoner experience in the concentration camps into the fabric of Holocaust memorialization and memory.


In particular, visiting the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps manifested a poignant experience of walking through endless barracks and fields which evoked a painful feeling of absence. The absence was augmented by comfort and support from peers and the humbling ability to walk through the space with survivors to learn from their testimony. However, the experience would not have been whole without the strong use of narrative and contextualization provided in the education by the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum Center and the staff we had on the MOL. To better understand the role of education and how a nation tries to reconcile with a fraught past, I took my passion from the MOL trip and visited Poland again during a study abroad program in college the following year. I took the experience of the MOL trip and applied it to my studies of how Germany and Poland reconcile the memory of the Holocaust through education and memorialization. Staying in Oswiecim, where Auschwitz-Birkenau is located, helped me understand more fully the role pedagogy in education, as Keller commented, helps to build understanding and reconciliation with the past to ensure that “never again” reins absolute.


Paralleling Keller’s experience at the slavery museum, I felt a call to action when I left Poland after the March of the Living and again when I studied abroad. It was a discovery in terms of sense of self, belonging, and meaning not only to Judaism, but to Israel and preserving the history for the next generation to bear witness. Keller noticed the same call expressed in a tour group of young African American students that took to heart the moving mission of the museum. The article by Keller is his call to recognize and draw parallels to how America may learn valuable lessons from Germany, Poland, or even Rwanda in reckoning with the past centuries late.


While the two atrocities mentioned have different context and history, they both speak to the call for “never again.” We serve as stewards to the next generation, as the phrase L’dor Vador emphasizes. Echoing a note left at the slave museum, fostering and encouraging the movement to provide enriching educational experiences, whether through the March of the Living or a slave museum, will help ensure that the future generation knows and will not forget the past.


To learn more about the March of the Living program, click HERE.



4 Nov



Womens Day 55

Public Invited to Interfaith Rally in Support of Israel

22 Oct

The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee invites you to an interfaith solidarity rally in support of Israel and her people on Tuesday, Oct. 27 at 5:30 p.m. Sing, dance and pray for peace as we gather together at J.D. Hamel Park in Sarasota (at the end of Main Street and U.S. 41).

  • This event is free and open to the public

  • Wear blue and white to show your support of Israel

  • Bring your own signs (JFED SRQ Will Have Some Available at the Rally)

  • Parking is available at the Bayfront and Palm Avenue parking garage

  • For more information, contact Jessi Sheslow at

Contact your representative and urge him/her to sign onto a bipartisan letter to Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that is being circulated by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY). The lettter encourages Abbas to end the incitement of the recent violence that is occurring in Israel.

From the Desk of Howard Tevlowitz

20 Oct

Note to the U.N.:
Don’t Tamper with the
Jewish People’s Holiest Site

western wall

Photo: via Google Images

The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee is asking you to take action now. The Palestinians, with key Arab support, are seeking to undermine the historic attachment of Israel and the Jewish people to Jerusalem.

A resolution at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) would designate the Kotel (Western Wall), the only still-standing remnant of the Temple in Jerusalem, as solely and exclusively an “integral part of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.”

This resolution is a malicious lie brought forth on behalf of the Palestinians by Algeria, Egypt, Kuwait, Morocco, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates. If passed, it would be a systematic erasure and undisguised historical revision, robbing Jews of their history and identity.

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Attacks in Jerusalem’s Old City Must Stop

8 Oct
A Jewish boy lights candles where a stabbing attack took place in Jerusalem's Old City, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015. A Palestinian stabbed a Jewish seminary student in Jerusalem on Thursday as the Israeli prime minister barred all Cabinet ministers and lawmakers from visiting a sensitive holy site in the Old City in an effort to calm tensions that have gripped the country for weeks. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

A Jewish boy lights candles where a stabbing attack took place in Jerusalem’s Old City. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee is saddened by the deaths of Nehemia Lavi, 41, and Aharon Banito, 21.

Both were murdered by a Palestinian terrorist during a stabbing spree in Jerusalem’s Old City on Saturday night that also wounded Banito’s wife and 2-year-old baby. Hours later, another Palestinian terrorist stabbed Moshe Malka, an Israeli teen, near the Old City’s Damascus gate. Both terrorists were shot and killed at the scenes.

We are further outraged by the statement of the Palestinian Authority, who after days of escalating violence in Jerusalem, went so far as to condemn Israel for its “policy of escalation” and the deaths of the two terrorists, but did nothing to repudiate the reprehensible violence the terrorists committed.

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JFED SRQ’s Milk & Honey Radio Show Debuts Oct. 4

25 Sep

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Join The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee Community Relations Director Jessi Sheslow as she debuts a weekly radio show on WSRQ beginning Sunday, Oct. 4 from 10-11 a.m. Interested in becoming a sponsor of The Milk & Honey Radio Show? Contact Robin Leonardi at (941) 552-6307;

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JFSM WCW College Series 5x7

Yom Kippur: Affirming Our Humanity for Those in Need

18 Sep


The tragic image of the lifeless body of a boy washing up on the shores of a Turkish beach is reminiscent of the iconic image of the little girl in the red coat in Schindler’s list. It reminds us of a chapter in the history of the world in which we forgot our humanity.

Nothing could stir up more emotions into our collective Jewish consciousness than the despair of migrants and refugees fleeing conflict and death with no country willing to offer sufficient  refuge.

As we celebrate Yom Kippur in a few days, we are reminded of our duty to set aside xenophobia and go the extra mile to affirm the humanity of the weak and downtrodden. We were ourselves, once, strangers in a foreign land.

At the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee we urge all official bodies and governments – the U.N., Europe and the U.S. – to collectively work to end the suffering of the hundreds of thousands of lost men, women and children.

*Photo credit: Nilufer Demir/DHA, via Reuters


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